New fire station raises alarm

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Park manager Craig Hayton speaks with residents at Estrada Park  about upcoming changes. 

By Joyce Coronel

Whether it’s a house going up in flames, a drowning child pulled from a pool or a loved one in the throes of a heart attack, there’s one response that’s been drilled into us: Call 911.

As precious seconds tick away, everyone involved in an emergency scenario hopes first responders will arrive quickly; a matter of seconds may mean the difference between life and death. 

For residents of South Tempe, a new fire station and its impact on the community have been the focus of attention in recent months. The city’s newest fire station will be built on 1½ acres of the eight-acre Estrada Park on McClintock Drive, just north of Warner Road.

In 2014, the Tempe directed its Fire Department to conduct a citywide station-location study for the to learn if additional stations were needed. What the study revealed was that call volume and response times had increased. New stations were needed in both south and north Tempe.

Paul Neis, assistant chief of what is now Tempe Fire, Medical and Rescue, said his department has been aware for some time that the south Tempe area needs another station. 

“We’ve known that we’d eventually have to put a station there,” Neis said. “As time goes by that need escalates.”

According to Neis, the demographics in south Tempe are different than in the northern reaches of the city. “You have more people aging in place in south Tempe—people who built homes 15-30 years ago and who are remaining there,” Neis said.

“They are now older, and older people tend to utilize emergency-medical services more. Or there is that generation caring for their elderly parents.”

According to Neis, the city’s study suggested optimum locations for placement of needed stations. In north Tempe, the area was identified around Rio Salado, somewhere between McClintock and Smith. In south Tempe, the ideal location would be close to McClintock and Elliot.

All of that is of little comfort for some area residents who worry about the potential for increased traffic and noise in the area.

One woman contacted Wrangler News and expressed frustration over the city’s plans to build the station at Estrada Park. Why couldn’t it be built at ASU Research Park or near the Go Daddy on Warner west of the 101?

According to Neis, a broker conducted an “exhaustive search” and determined that no other parcel was available for purchase. 

“There is just no land to be had anywhere,” Neis said. “The park is literally the only real estate that we could get to build a fire station.” As far as the Go Daddy site is concerned, Neis said, “They tried very hard to secure land in that area and simply couldn’t get anyone to sell them the land. At this point there is nothing is available in that commercial park.”

Kevin Sweeney, who has lived in the Estate la Colina neighborhood near Estrada Park for seven years, is the neighborhood’s liaison with the city. He said he is not opposed to the fire station but laments the loss of green space at a park he and his family frequently use.

Nevertheless, he said, the city has already decided to build the station.

That’s been voted on. That ship has sailed,” Sweeney said. Instead, he and other neighbors are focusing their efforts on planned upgrades to the park, which are included in the overall plan. 

Last May, a public meeting was held to gather the community’s input on proposed amenities. For those who couldn’t attend, the city’s website offered an opportunity to provide comments. The Estate la Colina Neighborhood Association has also included details about the park and new fire station in its newsletter and Facebook page.

“I can see how somebody might feel in the dark if they don’t use the internet,” Sweeney said. Beyond the cyberspace alerts, residents in the area also received a postcard inviting them to a meeting at the park last week that included an opportunity to review park design options created after the first round of resident input in May. Wrangler News also ran two previous articles on the city’s plan.

As far as increased noise in the area, Sweeney offered a shrewd assessment:

“Nobody wants the inconvenience until they need 911 and then all of a sudden they can’t do it fast enough for them. It’s a trade-off, a balance.

“There’s no perfect solution.”

That may be perfectly exemplified in an email to Wrangler News from an area resident who wasn’t happy about the new fire station being located near her home, admitting though that Tempe paramedics came to her swift rescue after a serious bicycle accident several years ago. “They pretty much saved my life,” she admitted. 

Neis said that around the nation, the number-one concern people express about fire stations is increased noise. Tempe did an evaluation, he said, and found that between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., when people might be sleeping, the new station in south Tempe might respond to one or two calls a week. If there’s not much traffic at those times, Neis said, sirens wouldn’t be necessary.

We are sensitive about minimizing the impact,” Neis said.

The building of the station and improvements to the park are two separate projects but will take place around the same time.

Neighbors will have input on the design and elevation of the new station, according to planners. City of Tempe officials say renovation of the park will begin sometime in winter or spring of 2018.

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